Reimagining Urban Informal Settlements : The Mukuru SPA

The Mukuru SPA (Special Planning Area) is a precedent-setting planning initiative that seeks to unravel multifarious challenges in one of the largest urban informal settlements in Kenya. It aims at alleviating widespread impoverishment and improving livelihoods of over 300,000 inhabitants by addressing cross cutting development challenges.

Stage of the project




Starting Up





Why was this project started?

Over the past decades, efforts by governments to address challenges in slums and informal settlements have failed to uphold the basic human right to adequate housing; and the global commitment to eradicate poverty and enhance liveability. The conventional interventions adopted in these settlements have often devalued and stigmatized informal settlements, often resulting in spatial and social marginalization accompanied by phases of mass coercive evictions and authoritarian slum clearance. Against this backdrop, the Special Planning Area (the very first of its kind in Kenya) was declared in 2017, prompted by years of evidence-based advocacy and months of peace platoons by Mukuru residents, supported by local civil society organizations. The declaration paved way for a 2-year progressive and participatory planning approach aimed at developing comprehensive and coherent policies and plans to address the multiple deprivations and tensions in the informal settlement. The project further aimed at setting a precedence for the upgrading of other informal settlements at local, regional and international scales.

The results of the project so far

The 2-year vitalizing, participatory and iterative planning process has resulted to formulation of 7 sector plans (from the coalition of 46 organizations mobilized in to 7 consortia built based on the thematic sectors of planning). These sector plans are now being harmonized and consolidated into the Mukuru Integrated Strategic Urban Development Plan-ISUDP. Through the thematic plans, the area's development challenges have been addressed comprehensively.

Quick wins: From the 7 sector plans, a few projects aimed at resolving the dire needs of the community have been identified as quick wins and have been adopted by the County's Project Task force for implementation. In this regard, the national government has invested 1.5 billion Kenya shillings for infrastructure development in Mukuru i.e. road network and drainage, water and sewer, electrification.

Efficacious large-scale stakeholder engagement: The planning process has actively engaged 5,370+ residents in community planning forums, 300,000+ residents in community dialogues and 46+ organizations through a highly frugal and methodical mobilization and engagement approach.

Formulation of Alternative Planning Standards/Guidelines for informal settlements: To instigate equitable sustainable development with minimal destruction/displacement in this space constrained settlement, an iterative planning approach was initiated characterized by a technical and participatory review of the conventional planning standards whose adoption would have resulted in 100% displacement of the inhabitants. Pragmatic, unconventional standards were developed through a conservative surgery approach. These provided alternatives for quality infrastructure which was less destructive , promoted public health, human dignity, safety and convenience, and mitigated environmental risks and vulnerabilities.

What are specific, distinctive, strong elements in this project?

A special, Highly frugal approach to slum upgrading in African Informal settlements
Active, methodical community engagement
Land Tenure management in informal settlements
Large scale collaboration and partnerships
Consortia Management

Which specific lessons, do's and don'ts would you like to share? What would be suggestions for others when preparing or implementing the project in their own city?

1. Communities MUST always remain at-the-center-of-planning
2. Participatory planning should support spontaneous local initiatives and social systems as opposed to eliminating them. For instance, working with informal service providers (locally termed as “cartels”) in a well-thought-out model quickens and sustains delivery of services such as water and electricity.
3. Bottom-up approaches in planning are highly efficacious and enhance ownership of plans and building consensus among different professionals and communities.

Urban development professionals and agencies should refrain from the “one shoe fits all” approach. The physical realities and transformations of urban settlements portray unique challenges, but exhibit an equal astounding number of unique development opportunities. These potentials can only be leveraged by adopting innovative strategies to rethink and reimagine urban informal settlements.

Have others adopted, or shown interest in adopting, your idea in their own area?

Mukuru SPA Planning Approach has drawn interest from both local and national government. Consequently, other settlements such as Kibera slums have been declared as Special Planning Areas, with the aim of adopting this alternative all-inclusive planning approach.

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